Friday, September 28, 2018

If You're Going to Santa Cruz

I left my home and family two days ago in Portland, Oregon to go on tour for six weeks around the US and Europe. The first gig on the tour after leaving home was in Santa Cruz, California.

In Portland, there is a constant, simmering feeling of tension in the city that I think is mostly due to the increasing divide between rich and poor, all the luxury apartments being built all over the city, all the working class people being evicted from their homes and pitched out into the streets, or more often into their cars. To live, in their cars, or in shelters. Or tents.

But if the tension is simmering in Portland, in much of California it's more of a rolling boil. I don't know if it's a coincidence, but Santa Cruz was the epicenter of the earthquake in 1994, and it appears to me that it may be the epicenter of the class war that is raging in the state of California. If you can call a one-sided war upon the poor a war, anyway.

Before I had been in Santa Cruz for an hour, I had seen five different cases of police harassing people, most of whom appeared to be homeless people of all ages. The downtown was even more unrecognizable than it became after being rebuilt following the earthquake – I had spent lots of time in Santa Cruz both before and after that. The shops were even gaudier than they had been, more expensive and inaccessible to normal people than ever.

I saw the statue of Utah Phillips' old friend, Tom Scribner, playing his musical saw. Tom would never be able to afford to live in Santa Cruz today, and if he played his saw on the streets these days he'd surely be arrested, like so many other people have been.

The organizer of my gig last night, Food Not Bombs co-founder, Keith McHenry, has been arrested in Santa Cruz many times for crimes related to feeding hungry people. He's been arrested on similar charges all over the US – especially in California.

Last night I thought I'd go to the place where the gig was going to be happening, the Louden Nelson Community Center, and answer some emails and such for an hour before it was time to start setting up for the show. The community center is run by the local Parks and Rec. It was open, staffed, and mostly empty. There's an area across from the front desk with tables and chairs that were completely unoccupied. I sat down, opened my laptop and got to work.

What happened next was a nice, apologetic woman approached me after I had been working for 15 minutes, and informed me that no one is allowed to be in the community center for more than 15 minutes unless they're there for an event. I asked if I could go into the room where the show would be happening and work there, since it was empty. No, she said, I had to leave the building.

Yesterday, at the age of 51, having done over 3,000 gigs in 25 countries over the course of 21 years of touring, I was kicked out of a building for the first time in my life. This happened in Santa Cruz, California, and I doubt I'll ever forget the experience as long as I live. I have already written the musician's union to recommend the venue be blacklisted until they reopen their bathrooms to the public and reopen their public spaces to the public as well. Whether that public has been priced out of the housing market or not.

As I was in the middle of starting to record this podcast I got a message from Keith McHenry. Apparently the staff at the Louden Nelson Community Center have now told him that Food Not Bombs will have to pay twice the rental fee that had previously been understood, on the basis that their investigation of Food Not Bombs shows that the organization is registered in New Mexico – despite the fact that Keith lives in Santa Cruz and Food Not Bombs cooks food in a commercial kitchen and feeds people in Santa Cruz every day.

If You're Going to Santa Cruz

If you're going to Santa Cruz, you can put flowers in your hair
But don't sit down on a bench for 16 minutes while you're there
Don't try to use the toilet at the public library
Or at the so-called community center, or you will quickly see
That the laid-back surfer vibe is just a very thin veneer
To hide a playground for the rich, where the poor all live in fear
Fear of the next eviction – between the things that they must choose
Between eating or feeding the landlord in the town of Santa Cruz

If you're going to Santa Cruz, don't play music in the street
By the statue of Tom Scribner, where the anarchists used to meet
Back in the days when anarchists could afford to exist
Anywhere near the coastline that the red sun kissed
The city is a police state – complete with microbreweries
But you better leave by nightfall if you're not a Google employee
If you like to travel here's some advice you can use
Beware the bourgeois town they call Santa Cruz

If you're going to Santa Cruz, you'd best have lots of green
And I'm not talking about cannabis, you know what I mean
I'm talking about money – the city reeks of dollar bills
You can see it on the lawn signs beneath the window sills
Vote no on Measure M, all the developers say
Because a rent control board would just get in the way
Of profits – because that's all there is to lose
If the rich don't get their way in the town of Santa Cruz

This has been another episode of This Week with David Rovics, which is available wherever you get your podcasts.

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